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August 16, 2009As he works through this summer's training camp, North Carolina junior cornerback Charles Brown is looking to overcome a down 2008 season that was set back from an ankle injury he suffered just three days into last year's camp.
"I'm just trying to get back to where I should be," he said. "Last year was a down year. I really couldn't get as many reps as I wanted to, and I lost a lot mentally just because I couldn't get into the game. But now I'm just trying to learn and get back to where I should be at."
Fully healthy this go-around, Brown is back running with the first unit at cornerback in camp for the Tar Heels and is looking to once again make good on all the promise he showed as a freshman, when he came in and made an immediate impact.
"It (the ankle) feels real good. That was my main thing, just coming in healthy and trying to stay healthy, because last year it was just three days of training camp and then I was done for the rest of it, so I feel real good," said Brown. "Yeah, I feel like I'm 100 percent physically and mentally right now."
A little-known prospect out of Maple Heights (OH) with relatively few scholarship offers in high school, Brown's speed had caught the eye of Butch Davis in the months prior to his arrival in Chapel Hill.
Davis took a chance on Brown and signed him as part of his first recruiting class at UNC back in 2007, and as a true freshman he played in all 12 games and made a total of nine starts, earning a place on the first-team All-ACC freshman team by The Sporting News.
Unfortunately for Brown and the Tar Heels, his sophomore year wasn't as promising.
Aside of the Rutgers game, in which he had a career-high tying 10 tackles and his only interception of the season, Brown wasn't as effective as he had been before he was injured.
In only one other game did Brown have at least four tackles, coming in UNC's win over Notre Dame.
He suffered another ankle-related setback against Maryland, and wound up missing the N.C. State and Duke games before returning for the Meineke Car Bowl.
Over the offseason, Brown has been working to improve his mobility as a cornerback, and to use his outstanding speed even more to his advantage.
"At corner, I've worked on just really getting my hips open and turning and running with guys, and trusting my speed," he said. "I had a habit of squatting on routes and jumping on short routes when I didn't have to because I didn't trust my speed. But now I'm just working on getting my hips open and making sure nobody gets on top of me and beats me deep."
"Playing a lot of offense in high school it was kind of hard to really adjust to judge my speed and chasing people down and stuff like that, but I'm starting to use it to my advantage now, just really trusting it," Brown added. "You've got to just trust your speed. I've got to trust that not a lot of people can run by me. I mean, some people can, but not a lot of people can, so I'm just trusting myself and trusting my speed."
Brown's role in the UNC secondary certainly isn't limited to cornerback, as he's proven highly effective in the past for the Tar Heels in 'nickel' defensive packages.
As the fifth defensive back on the field, the 'nickel' packages have given Brown ample opportunity to improve his run coverage and his tackling.
"I've played a lot of nickel," he said. "It's a lot of run defense, or you play a lot of run defense, more so than corner. I think that was a good thing for me, just being able to make tackles and stuff like that. So that's good, just working on my tackling. Playing that position has helped make me a better tackler."
In addition, Brown has been seen at UNC's practices catching balls with the other candidates at punt returner, and depending on the circumstances the Tar Heels could very well look to Brown for that critical role, too.
"I've been talking a lot to the coaches, Coach (Charlie) Williams and all that, telling them I want to return punts, but right now I'm not as high on the depth chart as I want to be. But time will tell. You never know what will happen," he said.
Along with the much-needed improvement in his health, Brown is at ease this summer from the standpoint that now he's a veteran.
Mostly on the bad end covering some of the talented UNC wide receivers he had to cover his first two years, he's now in a position for revenge against his mostly now-younger offensive counterparts, while also in position to help them out at the same time.
"It's crazy, because usually I'm the one getting picked on by the older receivers, like Hakeem (Nicks) and all that, just getting picked on in practice," he said. "You can't really stop them no matter how hard you try, you can't. But now I feel like I'm a veteran, and I'm helping the younger guys out, helping them out a lot, and helping the receivers out, too."
"We're coming together good. We all have a lot of experience and all that," Brown added. "Even though Trimane (Goddard) is gone, we've got a lot of experience. Da' Norris (Searcy) is in there now, but he still played a lot, even though he wasn't the starting strong safety. So we're all doing good. We've got a lot of chemistry."
Brown, like his teammates, doesn't shy away from big dreams for the remainder of his Tar Heel career.
"Me and the team, we're just trying to go out and win a championship," he said. "A lot of people don't really believe in us, but we believe in ourselves, and I know there are a lot of other people that do, too. We're just going out there and just doing the best we can. That's all we can do. We can't go out there and do more than we can do. Just do the best we can, and hopefully that will take us to a championship."